US National Archives policy

Before outlining some common criteria for selection, we should take a brief look at the selection policy developed by the National Archives for its AV material. For it is here that the experience of this author resides and we may see some criteria applicable on a general level. Note that the US National Archives is responsible by law for preserving materials that document the functions and activities of the Federal Government and its history, and that while we select for review all of the output of the government agencies, the archives ultimately retains only about 1% of the paper records and perhaps 20%-30% of the AV materials. As with any public archives the vast majority of materials created and accumulated by a federal government such as that in the US have only temporary administrative, legal, or fiscal values and are eventually destroyed when no longer needed by their creating agencies. A small portion, however, are never destroyed. These documents are appraised and selected by archivists as having enduring historical value and are eventually physically transferred to the legal custody of the US National Archives and preserved. It is in this selection process that the general selection policy in Appendix A is the most useful to the government agencies and to the archivists within the National Archives who do the appraisal.

GRS 21 specifies which types of AV records, including sound recordings, are to be offered for evaluation and selection and specifies certain categories of AV materials, which agencies can automatically dispose of without the prior approval of the National Archives. From the categories relating to sound recordings it can be seen that the National Archives collection is one of unique unpublished sound recordings as opposed to commercially produced and released multiple copy recordings. It is a collection on a national, federal wide basis, of speeches, interviews, actualities, news, public affairs, radio documentaries and spots, oral history, military recordings and information type programs. The schedule also specifies, based on other regulations, that when AV records are offered and transferred certain physical components or elements are required to be deposited for proper preservation. For sound recordings this means in effect that government agencies or donors of government related material must submit the original or earliest generation copy of each sound recording and one copy if possible for reference purposes.

Thus, using these general selection criteria as a base, and also in the actual appraisal process in the National Archives, we have often refined these criteria to apply to specific collections of recorded material, especially large collections of donated material that were not created by the federal government but which have documentation that relates closely to government activities and interests. For example, refer to Appendix B Guidelines for Evaluation of the ABC Radio Collection (P. 63) - a collection of some 27,000 discs and broadcast tape recordings made by the ABC radio network dating from 1943 to 1971. A selection was made of these recordings based on the selection criteria as outlined and developed from GRS 21 experience. As the summary reference report shows, this collection was briefly surveyed prior to its acceptance and it was felt the entire collection should be taken for several reasons:

  • It appeared to be primarily news and public affairs programming;
  • It had been maintained by the radio news division of ABC;
  • It had to be removed from the building it was stored in within a month because the building was to be demolished.

A situation that will undoubtedly be familiar to most readers.

After acceptance and based upon a written agreement between National Archives and ABC Radio a final selection reduced the collection from 27,000 to about 20,000 items. The recordings that were weeded out to accord with the guidelines are in the process of being offered to another institution once approval is received from the broadcasting company as the donor.